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Fun Friday: Crazy for Crust’s Homemade Brownie Mix

21 Aug

Today’s post is one that started out as something we were using for our cross country trip, but we’ve used since returning home also, and I plan to continue to use it at home, especially during the crazy school year weeks.

I had been looking for a pre-made brownie mix that I could duplicate to take along with us on our trip so that I would have an easy to make dessert on hand all the time. We were bringing five mugs with us so that we could make Nutella mug cakes, and I had the ingredients for that, but I didn’t want to have to have a lot of other ingredients on hand because our pantry was small. As I searched, I came across a homemade brownie mix that could be made up ahead of time, stored in an airtight (mouse tight and ant tight) container and only the wet ingredients would need to be added. I decided to make a double batch of the mix. I wasn’t sure we’d even use it, but I thought it would be good to have on hand. Our oven in the RV was tiny, so I brought a 9×9 square baking dish, as it was an option for the recipe as were 9×13 and loaf pan sizes.

brownies 2The recipe I chose was from the Crazy for Crust website, and you can visit it here to take a look around. We made up our double batch of the mix before we left and put it in an easy to store container that would fit into our pantry. I made sure to print out the recipe which contained the details for adding in the wet ingredients as well as the dish size options and the bake times. I put the directions into an envelope with the flap cut off and taped it to the top of the container for future reference.

brownies 1While we were on the trip, we decided to try out our oven. We’d gone many nights without dessert, and on other nights we’d had mug cakes, we’d had ice cream, but now I wanted to give baking a try, and we were really craving something good.

I found the recipe very easy to use, very quick to prep because we’d done the dry mix ahead of time, and as I mixed it all together, it looked thick and fudgy, just as a brownie mix should. We put everything in the pan, put it in the oven and I crossed my fingers.

Brownies 5A little over 20 minutes later, our brownies were done! They looked and smelled delicious, and we were thrilled that they tasted delicious also! Our first-ever baking experiment in our camper’s oven was a success, but more than that, I’d found a perfect brownie mix to keep on hand at home for future use. So often we need a last minute dessert and don’t have a mix on hand to throw together. I recently used this mix to make another couple of batches of brownies at home: a 9×13 and 9×9 batch at the same time, and there is still a little bit of dry mix left over!

I can’t wait to make another batch of this homemade brownie mix, and I can’t thank Crazy for Crust enough for sharing their recipe with us! I hope you’ll pay their site a visit so that you too can have the best homemade brownie mix ever. It’s a great, user-friendly recipe for kids and adults alike. You can see some amazing photos of their own freshly baked brownies while you’re there checking out the recipe!

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#crosscountryadventure2015: Tips for planning your own trip

27 Jul

So many people have said to us that they would love to take a trip like this one at some point in the future. I thought I’d share some tips with you, including things we’ve done or learned along the way.
trip wall1) Get everyone involved: If you’re bringing kids along and they are school aged, get them involved in the route planning by asking them what they’d love to see. We kept a large map and blank poster board on our wall and asked our kids to tell us what they hoped we could see. We let them know that just because it went on the list didn’t mean we could absolutely do it, but we’d do our best to make it happen. We tried to hit at least one place each person had requested, but many of the requests overlapped, like the Grand Canyon. We all wanted to see that. Our family and friend visits were worked in as well.
2) Be flexible: We had our calendar, we knew the date when we had to be in California, so we had a deadline, but my husband cautioned me against planning where we’d stay at every single stop because we might get delayed along the way or arrive earlier than planned along the way. I took his word for it, the planner that I am, and we only made our reservations for Virginia, for Fourth of July weekend, and for Los Angeles. As it turned out, we did modify our schedule a bit, and picked up an extra day along the way, which we were able to spend in Arizona with our friends, and another extra day which then allowed us to arrive a day earlier in Los Angeles than we’d initially planned. We struggled with finding a spot to stay overnight for three nights in Yellowstone National Park, so many campgrounds were now full, but had we booked it a month ago or more, our dates would not have been correct, so having a reservation would not have helped us. We opted to just stay two nights instead because that’s what we could find. So ultimately, he was right.
20150707_2329213) Be spontaneous, and be aware of your family’s habits: We knew several things we definitely wanted to do, like visiting the Alamo and the Grand Canyon, and we had specific plans for days when we were with our family, but we couldn’t possibly plan out every single minute of every single day ahead of time for the entire five weeks. It was nice to be able to wake up and do nothing some days or to wake up and say, “What should we do today,” making that decision as a family. We tend to be later risers and night owls, so we never planned to be up and out at the crack of dawn, because that wasn’t realistic for us. There’s a lot of us also, and one bathroom, so it takes us some time to get organized and out the door. We are much better at later arrivals for things whenever possible, and with the pressure to rush out the door off, it kept everyone happy, at least for the most part.
4) Divide and conquer: With an undertaking such as a trip like this one, there was no way we could make any one person responsible for the entire thing. We did sit many nights and plan out some of it together, but we also split up the responsibilities. I took on the bulk of the organizing of the camper inside as well as the family’s needs, while he took on the bulk of organizing the route (since he’d done this trip before) and finding the campsites, as well as taking on figuring out the hardware and equipment needs for the truck and camper. Working as a team is much easier than one person doing everything or both of you trying to do every single task together. Our kids were old enough to be involved in the organizing and setting up of the camper as well, so our team was more than just the two of us.
20150629_1242495) Remember that it’s camping: Yes, you have all the comforts of home in an RV, but you also have the potential for ants, a mouse, beetles, and the like. It’s not the Four Seasons, and we didn’t want it to be, but don’t be shocked if you see a bug, or if there’s dirt on the floor or if you shower in your flip flops at the campground’s showers. If you don’t like those types of things, this type of camping across the country trip isn’t for you. Our group consists of an Eagle Scout and four Girl Scouts. We’ve all tent camped and hiked before, and we like meeting and greeting new and different wildlife. We knew we’d be okay on a trip like this.
6) Be patient: Close quarters, long hours driving, tight spaces, many weeks away from home. There will be short tempers and meltdowns and frustrating situations. It’s important to be as patient as possible as often as possible. They say patience is a virtue, and this trip is a great way to practice it. Nothing will go 100% perfectly and you deal with things as they come, just as you would at home.
7) This is a driving trip: You’re going to spend a lot of time in the car, you’re going to spend a lot of money on gas. To think of the trip without knowing those things going into it would be silly. We saved lots of money in other ways, but we were up front with knowing gas would cost money and even a great deal of money in some places, and we’d be using a lot of gas because we would be spending five weeks on the road. We also knew going into the trip that we’d be pulling a camper and driving a large vehicle, so we knew our gas mileage wouldn’t be fantastic, but again, these were all known facts way ahead of time, so no surprises there and we took it all into consideration.
8) Camping is cheap: Although gas is expensive at times, lodging is very inexpensive. Campsites varied in price from as little as $15 a night to as much as $75 a night, depending on where we stayed, with an average price of $25-$30 a night, usually. We ate out on occasion as we do at home, but we ate in much more often, just as we would at home. Had we stayed in hotels, we would not have had such inexpensive lodging and not have had the ability to cook such great meals as we do now. At $3900 to own outright, our camper was our hotel and our ability to cook meals for five people a dog and a frog, for five weeks all wrapped in one, without having to spend money on airline tickets which would not allow us to experience the entire country from East to West and South to North as we have. And when we get home, we have the ability to go anywhere else we want to go with our camper from here on in, because we own it. Who knows what adventures lie ahead for us?

Adventure is all part of the fun!

Adventure is all part of the fun!

#crosscountryadventure2015: What we’re eating and how we’re cooking it

21 Jul

20150711_192859Traveling in an RV is ultra-convenient for eating in because you have everything you need right at your fingertips, as long as you’ve stocked it beforehand with all of the things you use on a day-to-day basis. Over the three months before we took our trip, I kept a specific list of kitchen supplies we’d need to make any meals we cooked in the camper go off without a hitch. We made sure we had our go-to pots and pans, cast iron skillets, a toaster, and our counter-top griddle, which can be used inside or out. With those items, the needed utensils like spatulas, whisks, wooden spoons, and serving utensils, we were in good shape and able to make most of our favorites. We had a full kitchen setup, including a stove-top, oven, and microwave; just in a smaller space. We could do whatever we needed to do.

20150707_173725
20150630_103212Although we have eaten out a number of times over the three weeks, we make an effort to eat in if there is nothing special going on, or if we’re not in any unusual place where we’d want to try out a local eatery or food item. Our goal was to not have to eat out every single meal, every single day and we are doing a good job of keeping to that goal. We can even eat out of the camper at a rest stop on driving days, although we alternate between doing that and grabbing something to go, depending on what we have in stock in the camper. We also try very hard to utilize all our leftovers, whether we have cooked them ourselves or eaten out and taken something home. Our very first night’s meal back at Pohick Campground in Va., was leftovers that we’d taken right out of our fridge at home and taken with us so we’d be prepared that first night with something to eat.
20150720_201702This post contains some photos I’ve taken along the way, and a modified version of my usual “Two weeks of meals” post that I often do for you when we’re home. These meals were either cooked indoors or if we had outdoor cooking facilities, on a campfire.

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Dinners we’ve enjoyed:
Pulled pork sandwiches, with tomato/cucumber salad
Macaroni and Meatballs
Tacos and quesadillas
Hamburgers, hot dogs (see my previous post about our BBQ bacon, cheddar, turkey burgers) and Caesar Salad
Chicken breast with BBQ, bacon, tomato and cheddar with sautéed vegetables
Grilled cheese with soup
Chicken Parmesan and pasta

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20150712_095837Breakfasts we’ve enjoyed:
Eggs and bagels or English muffins (grilled or toasted)
Pancakes (plain, chocolate chip, banana)
French toast
Cereal, instant oatmeal, grits
Yogurt and fruit
Sides of ham, bacon, sausage

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Two weeks of meal planning

1 Jun
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

It’s June 1!
We’re in the home stretch for the end of the school year; a busy time for us adults with our work in the schools and as parents of school aged kids, but also a busy time for the kids at school and in all their after school activities.

We can do it though, we’re almost there.

For us school ends on June 17 and for my husband’s district, it ends an entire week later, but at least the bulk of our family will be done with a lot of our stress by June 17.

I have not had a ton of extra typing time to devote to my blog, which is typical for this time of year, but to make up for it I’m going to share with you two weeks of meal planning ideas, just in case you’re as stressed in May and June as we are.

I hope that it gives you some inspiration for what to have for dinner over the coming two weeks.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Day 1: Eggplant Parm with pasta and salad

Day 2: BBQ Ribs and Chicken with cole slaw, baked beans, and rice pilaf

Day 3: Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

Day 4: Baked stuffed fish with red potatoes

Day 5: California Chicken sandwiches (grilled chicken with avocado and melted cheese)

Day 6: BBQ Pulled Pork in the crock pot

Day 7: Dinner out (Friday night)

Day 8: Baked Chicken Dinner with stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes

Day 9: Homemade Soup (we always offer sandwiches on the side, like grilled cheese, but it’s not often that anyone wants anything besides the soup.)

Day 10: Breakfast for Dinner: French Toast

Day 11: Pasta with Sauce

Day 12: Marinated steak tips

Day 13: Pork Chops with homemade apple sauce

Day 14: Quesadillas and Burritos

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: 30 Minute Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce

29 Apr
Another successful meal from Liz's 30 Minute Meal cookbook!

Another successful meal from Liz’s 30 Minute Meal cookbook!

About two weeks ago, for my previous What’s for Dinner Wednesday post, I showed a recipe that Elizabeth had found in a Cook’s Country Magazine for 30 Minute Meatloaf Burgers.

At the time that Liz chose that recipe, we were at the end of our two weeks of meals, which meant we’d be menu planning again soon afterwards for the next two weeks of meals.

Liz was on top of it. She and her dad poured through her selection of recipes hoping to find one that everyone would like at least one part of, if not all of. Pasta is a pretty easy choice. Everyone likes pasta, even if they don’t like what’s on it. Therefore, she chose a 30 minute meal called Spaghetti with Summer Vegetable Sauce.

It was so delicious, and seeing the veggies simmering on the stove while Liz and Don were cooking together really made me long for summer. This meal was wonderful and Liz did a great job choosing another quick and easy meal. I know she’s got at least one more on deck for a future week.

I’m getting a bit spoiled…

Here’s the recipe for you, just as it appears in the Cook’s Country Magazine.

It was hard to wait after seeing this simmering on top of the stove!

It was hard to wait after seeing this simmering on top of the stove!

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (We use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.)

1 onion, chopped

1 large summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper

1 pound spaghetti (We used linguine.)

6 tablespoons basil pesto (We made our own.)

DIRECTIONS

1.) Bring four quarts of water to a boil in large pot. Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in squash and zucchini and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in squash and zucchini and cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, wine, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about two minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; cover and keep warm.

2) Meanwhile, add pasta and one tablespoon salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Toss vegetable mixture and pesto with pasta, adding reserved pasta water as needed. Serve.

Test kitchen note: Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Easter Sweet Bread

3 Apr

This recipe makes three “small” loaves of sweet bread for Easter. It’s wonderful when you grill it!

Originally posted April 4, 2012

This recipe is one that takes a while from start to finish- nine hours to be exact- but if you’re game, it’s SO worth it! It is, of course, from my mom. She received it from a woman she worked with. It’s dated April 1992.

My mom makes it every year and I have made it once or twice myself. Don’t let the number of steps scare you off. If you go step-by-step it’s not hard.

Colleen DeMoranville’s Sweet Bread

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 and 1/4 cups hot milk

1 pkg. dry yeast (Fleishman’s Active Dry or Rapid Rise or Red Star)

1 egg- well beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract (can also use almond if desired)

7 cups flour (start with between five and six and add more if needed)

one 15 ounce can sliced peaches, drained and sliced thinner

DIRECTIONS

1) Mix butter, sugar, salt an d hot milk in a large bowl.

2) Let cool to lukewarm.

3) Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water and let stand 5 minutes. (If using a thermometer it’s 110-115 degrees. Add 1/4 tsp sugar or whatever the package of yeast says to add.

4) Add dissolved yeast, egg, the extract and three cups of flour to the butter, sugar, salt and milk. Mix vigorously with flat wooden spoon.

5) Add three more cups of flour and then mix well.

6) If too sticky, add more flour. It almost always needs more, but not more than 7 cups. Too much flour will make the bread tough.

7) Turn out onto floured surface and knead it for one or two minutes, then let rest for 10 minutes. Add remaining flour only if sticky.

8) Knead more until elastic.

9) Put into large buttered bowl . Turn over once so it doesn’t dry out. Cover with a dishtowel or two and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. (Takes a few hours.)

10) Punch down and knead for another minute or two. Cut in half for two long loaves or in thirds for smaller loaves and divide each of those portions into three pieces (for a total of six or nine pieces.)

11) Stretch and roll each piece until long and uniform, about 12-18 inches if divided into two portions. Shorter if divided into three.

12) Use the three pieces to make a braid with each portion.

13) Pinch ends together.

14) Insert peach slices between braids.

15) Place each loaf on a buttered cookie sheet and cover with a towel. Let rise until doubled in bulk. (Takes about 2 hours.)

16) Brush each with one egg yolk that is mixed with 1 tsp. cold water.

17) Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes (check at about 20 minutes) if making 2 large loaves or less if making three smaller loaves (usually between 17 and 18 minutes)

18) Remove loaves to cooling racks.

19) Cool and then glaze with mixture of:

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla

5-6 tablespoons milk

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles or non-pareils.

This photo was taken a couple of years back when Elizabeth helped me make the bread. She was probably in first grade at the time. My point is: there’s lots of opportunity for kids to help out here. There’s measuring, kneading, braiding and more, that they can help out with.

NOTE: The whole process takes about nine hours. Start in the morning, end in the evening. Mixing and kneading takes about one hour. First rising takes about two hours. Braiding takes about a half hour. Second rising takes about two hours. Baking takes about a half for each loaf, then cool and glaze.

My mom stores hers in gift boxes (like from a department store) on waxed paper.

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

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